Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are preparing to go head-to-head in the first 2016 presidential debate.
The event will be held at Hofstra University on Long Island and will be hosted by NBC Nightly News‘ Lester Holt. During the course of his campaign, Donald Trump has not shied away from attacking the media, referring to them as “disgusting” and frequently going after specific reporters. For instance, when Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Trump what he deemed to be an unfair question at a debate in August 2015, he attacked her on Twitter for months, calling her lightweight and retweeting supporters who referred to her as a “bimbo.”
Heading into the September 26th debate, Trump has already expressed concern that he will not be treated fairly. So how does he feel about Lester Holt? What has the history between the two of them been like? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Donald Trump Incorrectly Said Holt is a Democrat
Donald Trump recently complained that all four of the moderators of the upcoming presidential debates are Democrats.
“Look, it’s a phony system,” Trump said on Fox News. “Lester’s a Democrat. I mean, they’re all Democrats. Okay? It’s a very unfair system.”
Trump clearly believes he will not be treated fairly by the moderators, who he feels are biased against him. But his statement that Lester Holt is a Democrat is not true. NPR reporter David Folkenflik found that Holt is registered as a Republican in the state of New York, and he has been since 2003.
Holt is generally seen by those on both sides of the aisle as being objective and professional, and Trump did say at a recent rally that he thinks Holt will be “very fair” but that “a lot of people are going to be watching to see if that’s true,” according to The Washington Post.
2. Holt Has Confronted Trump About His False Statements
There have been a lot of questions heading into the first debate about how hands-on the moderators should get and if they should jump in to correct false statements. We don’t know what Holt’s approach will be, but he has in the past shown that he is not afraid of confronting interview subjects with the facts.
In the June 23rd interview embedded above, Holt cornered Trump about his claim that Hillary Clinton slept through the 2012 Benghazi attack, even though it happened during the middle of the day and she testified that she was awake the entire time.
Trump at first doubted Holt’s assertions, saying, “Were you there? Were you there? Were you with her?”
He later altered his argument slightly to say that Hillary Clinton was asleep at the wheel, even if she wasn’t literally sleeping.
“It went on for a long period of time and she was asleep at the wheel, whether she was sleeping or not,” Trump said to Holt. “Who knows if she was sleeping.”
In general, Holt isn’t the kind of journalist to argue with his interviewees, but he does do his homework and is prepared to get the truth out there.
3. Breitbart Has Praised Holt As a “Professional”
Some Trump supporters have accused Lester Holt of being biased, but they’re generally in the minority, and the NBC Nightly News anchor is very rarely criticized by those on the right or on the left.
For proof of that, just take a look at Breitbart News, the far-right website widely read by Trump supporters. In August 2015, when it was reported that Lester Holt’s Nightly News was performing better in the ratings than Brian Williams’, Breitbart praised Lester Holt as a professional, as opposed to the rest of the media that they view as being run by liberals.
“Holt is a pro, not a celebrity or brand,” John Nolte wrote. “He delivers the news, stays out of the way, and wins.”
The Breitbart article also refers to Holt as “sturdy” and “professional.” The author of the piece, John Nolte, no longer works for the news outlet.
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, who has worked with Lester Holt, also described Holt as “a fair guy” and “an honest man.”
4. Trump Says Holt is “A Good Guy”
Although Donald Trump has incorrectly labeled Lester Holt a Democrat and has expressed concern over how he will handle the debate, Trump still seems to believe the NBC Nightly News journalist is a good, fair person.
In the same Bill O’Reilly interview in which Trump said Holt is a Democrat, he also said that he has respect for the reporter. And when asked about possible debate moderates back in August, before the actual moderators were announced, Trump approved of a hypothetical Holt pick.
“I think Lester Holt is a good guy,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt via The Daily Mail.
In that same interview, he also approved of CBS’ John Dickerson, NBC’s Chuck Todd, and CNN’s Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer.
He did, however, not approve of CNN commentator Mary Katharine Ham, who he said he has never gotten along with.
“I don’t know her, but she says only bad things, so let’s cross her name off,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt.
5. Trump Says Holt Shouldn’t Fact Check During the Debate
In a recent presidential town hall on MSNBC, host Matt Lauer was widely criticized for not fact-checking the candidates on blatant falsehoods, such as when Donald Trump stated that he was against the war in Iraq. In the aftermath of that town hall, there has been increased pressure on the upcoming moderators to play an active role in the debates.
Donald Trump recently said that Lester Holt should not do this.
“I mean, if you’re debating somebody and if she makes a mistake or I make a mistake…we’ll take each other on,” Trump said on Fox and Friends. “But I certainly don’t think you want Candy Crowley again.”
Trump is referring to the 2012 debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney that was hosted by CNN’s Candy Crowley (and that, incidentally, also took place at Hofstra University). There was a backlash from conservatives when Crowley interrupted an argument between Obama and Romney over whether Obama called the Benghazi attacks an “act of terror” the day after they occurred. Crowley was correct when she said that President Obama did indeed use the phrase “act of terror” on September 12th, 2012, though there was some question of if he was specifically referring to Benghazi when he said that, and the president did avoid using the phrase “terrorist attack” in interviews that week. Crowley left CNN in 2014.
Mitt Romney later expressed frustration with the fact that Crowley played an active role in the debate.
“Well, I don’t think it’s the role of the moderator in a debate to insert themselves into the debate and to declare a winner or a loser on a particular point,” Romney told Hugh Hewitt in 2014. “And I must admit that at that stage, I was getting a little upset at Candy, because in a prior setting where I was to have had the last word, she decided that Barack Obama was to get the last word despite the rules that we had.”
Trump has repeatedly referenced this Candy Crowley incident throughout the 2016 election cycle.
“I don’t want to have people that are unfair,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt back in August. “When you look at what Candy Crowley did with, you know, with Mitt Romney, that was so unfair. And she was wrong on top of everything.”
The first presidential debate airs September 26th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.